By CHRIS McGOWAN
With its blazing speed, 5G – the next generation of wireless technology – is expected to spark plentiful innovations and burgeoning growth in entertainment and the arts, especially for streaming media, video games, virtual reality and augmented reality. These innovations will create new opportunities for content creators and visual effects artists.
“All of a sudden, people will have more access to high-quality data streams, very fast, with low latency,” according to David Bloom, a Santa Monica-based journalist and consultant who tracks the collision of technology and entertainment. For television, there will be options galore as 5G will bolster IP services that stream “all your different video content.”
That different content may include new forms of interactive TV, music and advertising. One can easily imagine the interactive potential of shows like Dancing with the Stars and American Idol, as well as live music concerts and sporting events. There will be narrative that follows in the footsteps of Charlie Brooker’s 2018 branching episode Bandersnatch in the Netflix series Black Mirror. And there will be a variety of interactive ads, some inspired by the Proctor & Gamble 2020 Super Bowl commercial “When We Come Together,” powered by interactive video company eko. In that commercial, visitors to the ad’s website made narrative choices that determined the ad’s final version. 5G-enabled location awareness may add another layer to the mix for advertising, TV events and other shows, according to Bloom. For most content, 5G will impact the production of the VFX underpinning it all.
THE CLOUD AND THE THIN CLIENT
Neishaw Ali, President and Executive Producer at SpinVFX, explains that since 5G streams high bandwidth with low latency (little or no lag time), “You are basically pulling data from your ‘studio in the cloud,’ thus allowing you to work from your laptop and a tablet anywhere in the world as long as you are connected to a 5G network. In a world where security is critical, 5G also allows you to secure your data in the cloud and only stream images to your mobile device. It also helps to reduce cost by allowing you to ‘spin up’ a different level of services only when you need it. This flexibility is exciting and challenging to VFX studios as it streamlines costs, provides efficiency and reduces barriers to entry which in turn creates global competition.”
Chris Healer, CEO of VFX studio The Molecule, comments, “I think the first thing that comes to mind is that the ‘thin client’ revolution will happen because of this technology [5G], where it’s cheaper and easier to send a screen share or transmit a UI than it is to process on a device locally. I would say that more software will join that revolution.” He describes one possible example, “It’s really not a far stretch for Adobe to release a 5G-enabled version of Photoshop that works on an iPad Pro, where Photoshop is running in the cloud and the interface is transmitted to the iPad.” 5G could change other things in the studio, says Healer. “One simple thing that would be improved tremendously would be the ability to view dailies, previs, VFX drafts, etc., while on set. As a VFX supervisor you don’t get much time on set with a director between setups, so being able to hit play on a video and see it instantly in full resolution without waiting for it to load would be huge. I envision VFX and post-production being untethered.”
Mathias Chelebourg, director of the VR film Doctor Who: The Runaway, comments, “The race for rendering power has always been at the center of our pipeline designs. The recent rise and evolution of streamed remote workstations in the studio with the addition of real-time engine tools are revolutionary breakthroughs that are deeply impacting the way we approach filmmaking from set to delivery.”
ENABLING VR AND AR
Virtual reality, which fully immerses users in another place/reality, and augmented reality, which overlays text or images on what is in the real world, are immersive media that have applications ranging from arts and entertainment to education and industry. “5G will be a huge enabler for AR/VR,” says Tuong H. Nguyen, Senior Principal Analyst for research and advisory company Gartner, Inc. “Having 5G opens up many possibilities. It provides high bandwidth, low latency, massively collaborative, on-demand, contextualized experiences. In AR, this could mean facilitating content delivery and consumption – providing contextualized experiences – giving the user relevant, interesting, actionable information based on their context.”
Lower latency and stable connections, thanks to 5G, will enhance the sense of presence in virtual reality – that you are really “there” inside the experience. In addition, 5G will cut the cord connecting many headsets to PCs, with the cloud taking over the heavy lifting. High-quality VR and AR will become possible where 5G is present. “The ability to rely on a strong 5G network to harvest the power of cloud computing will definitely be a key milestone in the evolution of VR broadly,” Chelebourg comments. “It needs to happen.”